March 9, 2012, 11:24 AM IST SRK Targets NRIs With New Production House When Bollywood kingpin Shah Rukh Khan launched his production company in the U.S. earlier this week, there was no swanky soirée or engineered publicity stunt to usher in the venture. “I want to start the company off with a bang,” said Shailja Gupta, head of Red Chillies USA. “But I’d like the work to speak for itself.” Charged with expanding the company’s digital presence while also securing partnerships with American production houses, Ms. Gupta, 38, is a refreshing combination of pragmatism and drive—an exception in an industry notorious for over-the-top, off-screen histrionics (as actor Saif Ali Khan recently demonstrated in a very public altercation with a South African businessman.) Launched in 2002, Red Chillies Entertainment, the parent company of Red Chillies USA, began as a Bombay-based production house co-founded by Shah Rukh Khan and his wife, Gauri. In addition to backing a roster of blockbusters like “My Name is Khan” and “Om Shanti Om,” the company has branched out to include other divisions, including an in-house visual effects studio. With other major Indian players like Reliance Big Pictures and Dharma Productions also testing out Hollywood waters, it seems that Bollywood is slowly setting its eyes on international production values – and the American box office. Red Chillies is not just about promoting the idea of Bollwood in the the U.S. By claiming a presence overseas, the production house hopes to improve the quality of its own film production, whether it means shopping for scripts to co-produce or partnering with cutting-edge technicians, says Ms. Gupta. Mr. Khan’s popularity among non-resident Indians is likely to help the company take off in the U.S. “Shah Rukh often jokes that he’s an NRI actor, so having his brand recognized worldwide has never been an issue,” says Ms. Gupta. Mr. Khan’s NRI appeal can be attributed to memorable performances in blockbusters like “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge,” “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” and “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.” “SRK’s characters in these films were always very urbane, sophisticated and cosmopolitan – he really was the first yuppie hero of Hindi cinema,” said Tejaswini Ganti, anthropologist and author of the recently published, “Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry.” “In those particular films, it appears as if you can take the man out of India, but you can’t take India out of the man,” said Ms. Ganti. In a cinematic landscape that is becoming increasingly multi-faceted, Mr. Khan’s films also tend to strike a careful balance between tradition and modernity that many, particularly outside of India, often crave. “The diaspora is nostalgic for the India that Shah Rukh’s characters often represent,” explained Tula Goenka, professor of television, radio and film at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “The movies that he’s in are the wholesome, mainstream films that people all over the world associate with Bollywood. Mr. Khan’s most recent production, the sci-fi thriller, “Ra.One”, didn’t meet the commercial success it expected, but set new benchmarks for visual effects in Indian cinema. “It was the first time that the visual effects of a Bollywood film were spearheaded entirely from India,” Ms. Gupta said. Ms. Gupta drew attention to Bollywood’s growing need to join forces with its American counterpart for survival’s sake. “Hollywood’s reach is everywhere; they’ve gobbled up a lot of industries across the world—India and its urban audiences are next,” she warned. “We’re hoping when we tie up with Western filmmakers, they’ll introduce a certain way of writing that we can learn from because Bollywood really needs to buck up on its scripts,” she said. She declined to share what specific Indo-U.S. co-productions are currently being discussed under the Red Chillies banner. “At this point, Indian cinema is undergoing a transition and it’s very, very important to be open to learning from everyone else,” said Ms. Gupta. Ms. Gupta stated that it’s not a one-way street when it comes to cinematic exchange: “India has definitely gotten more exposed, especially after the success of ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’” Examples include Fox Searchlight’s upcoming “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a lively film that follows an eclectic crew of British retirees, determined to spend their autumn years in Jaipur, and “Trishna,” a modern-day adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Ubervilles” set between rural Rajasthan and Mumbai. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow is currently shooting “Zero Dark Thirty,” a movie based on the U.S.’s military strike against Osama bin Laden shot predominantly in Chandigarh. (However, as Ms. Bigelow now knows, there are risks to filming in India, too.) It’s clear that Hollywood is also looking towards the Subcontinent for inspiration, albeit of a different kind.